Blue Jean

In 1988 England as Margaret Thatcher worked to pass the anti-gay Section 28, an anxious lesbian PE teacher is desperate to keep her private and public lives separate.  But when a new student, Lois (newcomer Lucy Halliday), enters her class there appears to be an unspoken recognition and when Lois shows up at the lesbian bar Jean (Rosy McEwen, "Vesper") patronizes with her lover Viv (Kerrie Hayes, "Nowhere Boy," "Brighton Rock"), everything will begin to unravel for “Blue Jean.”

Laura's Review: B+

Like Audrey Diwan’s period abortion drama, “Happening,” two years ago, British writer/director Georgia Oakley's feature debut couldn’t be timelier in creating empathy for a class of people doubly targeted in today’s United States.  There is nothing surprising about the way “Blue Jean” unfolds, but its performances are so heartfelt and vulnerable, its situations so recognizable and its ultimate epiphany so satisfying that it rewards nonetheless.

We first meet Jean asking her PE class if anyone can tell her the meaning of the phrase ‘fight or flight,’ a symbolic representation of her lover Viv, an out and proud, rather militant lesbian, and herself, which Jean proceeds to define as the body reacting before the brain.  From what we witness of her class, she has their respect and is a good and fair instructor, but as soon as Lois, a walking contradiction, joins, sideways glances inform that the rumor mill has begun turning.

Things have begun fraying in Jean’s personal life as well.  Spending an evening at home with Viv, the women have just begun to make love when there is an insistent knocking at Jean’s door.  Hurriedly dressing, Jean opens it to her sister Sasha (Aoife Kennan), who informs that her mother-in-law has been rushed into hospital and asks if Jean can watch her 5 year-old nephew Sammy.  Viv’s presence does not go unnoticed and the woman, disappointed at being introduced as a ‘friend,’ promptly leaves.

In trying to keep her sexual orientation secret, Jean will disappoint a partner who realizes she is not ready for their relationship while also leaving Lois falsely accused by another student of an ‘attack’ she could discredit but for the threat of being exposed herself.  McEwen (who changed her name so as not to be confused with Rose Byrne), the very definition of an English Rose with her shaggy blond pixie, blue eyes and delicate features, gives an outwardly quiet performance yet conveys the turmoil and burgeoning self-loathing beneath the surface.  Oakley’s writing allows us to feel for this woman, even when she does the wrong thing, so fraught is her situation (you’ll want to stand up and slap that sister when she later complains that her son Sammy is too young to understand Jean’s relationship with Viv, this after showing up with him unannounced at her sister’s door begging for babysitting).  Equally fine is fellow British Independent Film award winner Hayes, whose buzz cut, piercings and tattoos belie the soft and sensitive heart that wears them, Hayes’s Viv strident in her belief in standing up for one’s rights and absolutely heartbroken over her partner’s unwillingness to make such a stand.  The look these two share in a café booth is the very definition of longing and regret.  Halliday’s performance is almost a melding of these two, youthful uncertainty mixed with bravado.

Oakley’s production relays the 1980’s without screaming it, Jean’s couch and television set immediately informing us we are not in the present.  Chris Roe’s (“After Love”) violin and piano score complements the film, which features an eclectic soundtrack (although oddly not David Bowie’s titular song), its period and emotional standout New Order’s ‘Blue Monday’ in its midsection.

Robin's Review: B

It is 1988 in Newcastle, England, just two years after Clause 28 – the national anti-gay law – was enacted across Britain. Jean (Rosie McEwen) is the girls PE instructor at a secondary school – and she is in the closet. Her controlled lesbian life is complicated by the arrival of a new girl, Lois (Lucy Halliday), at school in “Blue Jean.”

Georgia Oakley directs and writes this period drama and it is significant to our current times in America. The ’86 Brit law sounds an awful lot like where we are headed in the “red” states of these United States (which, because of ultra-right fascism gripping a noisy conservative base, is fast becoming a misnomer. The Divided State says it better).

The damning clause forces a good portion of the population, including Jean, to go underground. This colors the young woman’s day to day life, forcing a distinct line between her public and private lives. In public, she is just a phys ed instructor. In private, she has a passionate affair with her SO, Viv (Kerry Hayes), and spends her social time in a gay bar with her friends.

When Lois shows up at the bar, Jean’s initial reaction is to panic, thinking the girl will out her. She does not, but the threat she poses on Jean’s life could be dire and life and career altering. This makes for a solid psychological drama on being gay in a society that will not accept it. Rosie McEwen gives a good character study of being closeted in a repressive culture – just where we are heading, now, here.

Magnolia Pictures releases "Blue Jean" in select theaters on June 9, 2023, expanding on June 16.